Unbelievers are ‘the worst of creatures’

Surah 8 (Al-Anfal/The Spoils of War): 55

Surely the vilest of animals in Allah’s sight are those who disbelieve, then they would not believe.

In 〈18.〉 Causation and Free Will, reference was made to Daud Rahbur’s survey of the Qur’an’s references to God leading unbelievers astray or otherwise preventing them recognising the authenticity of the Qur’an and its announcer. Rahbur concluded that the superficial impression that these verses created, namely that God determined who believed and who did not, was misconstrued, and that these verses were consistently linked to the ideas that those being misled were already sinful and that God acted not arbitrarily but upon His deeper knowledge of this than man can understand. This interpretation, which it is suggested is correct, acquits the God of the Qur’an from the accusation of arbitrarily creating humans in order that he might led some astray and then punish them upon a whim. However, it follows from this understanding that the scepticism of unbelievers is not an error that might be rectified by evidence and reason. If not a sin itself, it is to be treated as a sign of their guilt of some other grave if unknown sinfulness and corruption that has made them literally cursed by God.

 

Whilst those who believe are praised as ‘the best community brought forth unto mankind’, {3.110}, references in the later Qur’an to those who do not believe are clearly designed to incite contempt. {8.55}‘s description of unbelievers as ‘the vilest of animals’, above, (traditionally relating to the Battle of Badr), is one of several verses that dismisses those who reject the Qur’an’s message as being less than human.

{7.179} We have indeed created for Hell, many among jinn and men: they have hearts with which they understand not …

Such as these are like cattle. Nay, they are even further astray

and

{98.6.} Truly the disbelievers among the People of the Book and the idolaters are in the fire of Hell, abiding therein.

It is they who are the worst of creation..

 

In {5.59-60} the Qur’an moves beyond the use of dehumanising insults and actually claims that God has, in the past, turned some of the people of the Book into ‘asses and swine’.

{5.59} Say: ‘O People of the Book! Are you vengeful towards us for no other reason than that we believe in God and in that which hath been sent down to us and in that which was sent down before, and because most of you are iniquitous?

{5.60} Say: ‘Shall I inform you of something worse than that by way of recompense from God? Whomsoever God has cursed and upon whom is his wrath and among whom he has made some to be apes and swine, and who worship false deities, such are in a worse situation and further astray from the right way.’

This reference to God apparently having turned some People of the Book into apes and swine is almost certainly connected to verses {2.65} and {7.166}, in each of which God recalls having cursed Jewish sabbath-breakers with the words ‘Be ye apes〈88.〉 If Jews had been turned into apes, this may tend to associate those of the People of the Book who had been turned into swine in {5.60} with Christians: the porcine imagery possibly an allusion to Jesus casting demon Legion into the Gadarene swine (Matthew 8.28-34 , Mark 5.1-20 , and Luke 8.26-39 ), possibly a reference to the acceptability in Christianity of eating swine.

 

Two further beastly insults employed in the Qur’an for unbelievers include the statements that ‘the parable of those who were made to bear the Torah then did not bear it is that of an ass bearing books’, {62.5}; and verses {7.175-176}, sometimes associated with an Arabian poet and contemporary of Muhammad, Umayyah ibn Abi Salt.

{7.175} And recite unto them the account of the One to whom We gave Our signs but he cast them off. So Satan made him his follower and he became one of the deviant …

{7.175} Thus his parable is that of a dog. If you attack him, he lolls his tongue and if you leave him alone he lolls his tongue.

That is the likeness of the people who deny Our signs.

 

The message from all these verses is clear enough. Unbelievers should be seen as less than human. These verses underpin the denial of rights to unbelievers, see 〈73.〉 and 〈93.〉, whose elimination becomes not a conflict between morally equivalent beings, but rather an exercise in pest control.